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In Search of Regional Industrial Culture: The Role of Labour Organisations in Old Industrial Regions

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This paper examines the ways in which the institutions of organised labour contribute to the formulation of regional industrial culture. We argue that industrial culture is fundamental to an understanding of uneven regional development. This industrial culture is dynamic, both product and constituent of negotiated social activities that involve the traditions and capacities of labour as an actor in its own right. We address the question of precisely how these connections between economy and culture are made. This is done through a detailed case study of the way in which one labour organisation—the national steel labour union in the UK, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC)—has both shaped and been influenced by the industrial culture of Teesside in northeast England. There, we argue, nationally led centrist labour politics came together with paternalistic capital-labour relations and localistic forms of self-identification to create a distinctive regional industrial culture. We focus in particular upon four processes: the social construction of work in the steel industry; relations with other steel regions within the UK; fragmentation in collective bargaining; and the ISTC's recent reorientation towards community unionism. We conclude that much remains to be done given the powerful legacies from decades of innate conservatism, but that it is now at least possible to begin to address important questions about the future direction of the local economy. Thinking in terms of the contingent interaction between cultural and economic attributes, centrally incorporating labour, is useful because it opens up the concepts of adaptability and institutional blockage to wider interpretations.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Durham, Durham, UK; 2: Department of Geography, University of Durham, Durham, UK;

Publication date: September 1, 2001


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